Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Patrick Stolley
Alina Simone sings songs in the English language, but those songs are mysterious only in where they're actually from. The words, we get them. We take them in through our eardrums and translate them before we've even realized it. Some of them sound like the messages shot over to us from some desperate person trying to survive with war exploding its messy guts and glory all over her. It's aching and painful and yet there's a sense that the narrator of the happenings is not supposed to be talking to us, as if we were getting these hot-blooded, stressed out anecdotes fed out from the other side of iron bars or through Morse code tappings.
These are dangerous strains of words and spooky lines of song that the Brooklyn-living Simone offers when she's speaking our language, or what I assume we can agree is our common language. These songs are hers, though the perspective that they offer is surely one that she's either gotten familiar with through news reports, old diaries of her ancestors from the old country or in musky history books, where the treachery and the unbelievable horrors were arguably more prevalent and wide-spread. Wars were everywhere, though we may be getting back to that point if we aren't careful. Soon enough, Missouri or Connecticut could just get bombed for the hell of it by some cackling people just like ourselves. The digression gets us nowhere, however. What needs to be discussed, when discussing Simone, are the nine songs that she's chosen to make an entire album out of (Everyone Is Crying Out To Me, Beware on 54 40 Or Fight Records), which are sung in the language that they were written in by Yank Dyagileva: Russian.
Now, Dyagileva was suspected to have committed suicide 17 years ago after a long bout with depression and only became a celebrated songwriter posthumously, so the amount of available knowledge that anyone in the world really has about her is fairly limited. Simone somehow found her Sylvia Plath-like works to be too much to only listen to. She chose to nurture them, fix their hair and take them out into the public. They - despite Simone's darkly tinged abilities as a storyteller - are what are on display here. These songs, being sung in a foreign dialect, are what we hear and touch because they are beside us. They get to explain themselves in oddly - mostly misunderstood - parenthetical, woolly manners. Tones and hues make themselves vivid and interestingly enough, Dyagileva becomes an extension of Simone, or is it vice versa? One could suggest that Simone takes on many of the characteristics of the depressed, suicidal poet from the former Soviet Union.
Those are the kinds of insinuations that lash out from the quick and gruff songs that Simone chose to include on her record. Singing them in Russian gives us all of the freedom to assume that the lyrics carry with them undercurrents of the deadly and destructive feelings, the bouts of desperation that Dyagileva took with her into that river where she decided that it would be better to drown than to swim. Just this afternoon, reading an interview with Sun City Girls/Sublime Frequencies' Alan Bishop in The Believer's Music Issue, I considered the effect that the words coming at us in Russian have and a quote from Bishop, who has for decades made pilgrimages to Thailand, North Africa, the Mideast and elsewhere recording glorified field recordings and radio static for releases, stood out as applicable.
He doesn't normally understand the tongue of the country that he's rummaging through, on the hunt for interesting sounds, and he doesn't care, "The lyrics are not an important thing to me," he said. "In fact, it can be a distraction. If I knew the language enough to know it was a horrible love song with stupid lyrics then it would be much more of a turnoff than if it would allow me to interpret it from the expressive capabilities of the vocalizing or of the sound itself, which allows me to create my own meaning for it, which elevates it into a higher piece of work for me. So it's the same way about a Thai song, the Thai language does that to me because I don't understand exactly what's going on in the song. I can read it into my own way of formulating what it means to me. For the same reason that the guy singing that Thai song may even listen to Western music, but he's not going to know what's going on with the Western music either. He doesn't know the fine points. He doesn't understand what (those songs) are saying. But he loves it because it's doing the exact same thing to them as their songs do to me. That's the similarity here. That's what is much more interesting than knowing what the songs are about." Simone, in her way of presenting these powerful and yet tortured songs with all of the dark qualities intact, has given Dyagileva her voice again - from the grave.
Alina Simone Official Site
54 40 Or Fight Records